Phantom Theater in Warren didn’t have a permanent home until 1991, when Jim Edgcomb and his wife Lexi Leacock offered their barn on Airport and Dump Roads for summer shows. Nor did it have an official board until after that, according to board co-chair Beth Binns Schoellkopf. But Annie Wattles of Calais, and Cat Carr of San Francisco began bringing talent into The Valley as early as 1985 and offering up productions in places like the old Pitcher Inn, the Valley Players Theater, the bar/restaurant Gallagher’s (now Sage Restaurant), and other venues.
This newspaper began publishing articles about Phantom Theater at its inception, and this reviewer’s earliest Phantom preview was on a show called “Airbrains” in 1988, by a man named David Esbjornson, who went on to become a Broadway and Off-Broadway director. (Since then, Hubbard has written hundreds of articles, and has recently been joined by board members Dan Eckstein, Kate Youngdahl, and Lucas Bates.)
Current artistic director Tracy Martin arrived in 1988, part of a growing number of performers from all over the country who learned mostly through word-of-mouth that imagination was allowed to run rampant in a small theater in Vermont.
For years those who pitched in to get the shows up were listed in the program as “production support team,” and a board was formed. There are now 15 members—Jim Sanford, Sucosh Norton, Dana Jinkins, Beth Binns Schollkopf, Sheryl Kurland-Platt, Lucas Bates, Dan Eckstein, Lexi Leacock, all of Warren; Laura Brines and Claudia Becker of Waitsfield, Bob Stauss of Waterbury, and Kate Youngdahl of Granville. (Julia Purinton is on a year’s leave of absence.)
“The board adheres to the typical requisites of being a board member by fundraising, supporting our artistic director, discussing budget and ticket prices, and listening to reports from various members, but we go beyond the ordinary in offering our homes to artists (and sometimes vehicles), working the door at all events (There is a sign-up sheet, quickly filled.), and parking cars when we know we have a full house. We design websites, signs, write articles, prepare ads, clean the barn, and set up seating. We start and end the season with dinner meetings at the home of Mary and Pierre Moffroid, which Dana Jinkins mentioned as a primary reason for staying on the board,” explained co-chair of the board Sheryl Kurland-Platt.
Each spring Martin comes to the board with the shows she has selected for the summer. Many Valley children have cut their thespian teeth on Phantom shows and workshops, then ventured off to successful careers in dance and theater. This summer dancer MaryJo Cahilly-Bretzin returns to our stage with friends from Burlington to present “Lunch.” Brin Schoellkopf, son of Beth and Jeff Schoellkopf of Warren, has traveled the world with various circus shows. He is coming in July from Montreal to present a film he co-directed titled “Moya,” which since its release in April of 2021, has won three awards at the International Circus Awards, and was screened in London, Tokyo, and Seoul. The South African production is set against the backdrop of Nelson Mandela’s Rainbow Nation. Peter and Will Anderson, nephews of Warren resident John Anderson, will be returning to play a jazz concert.
A trio of performers who have been presenting shows at Phantom since the 1990s — Ben Schneider (NYC), Jeanne Darst (L.A.), and David Sinaiko (San Francisco) come when the mood hits them to create what the board refers to as the Mainstage Show. Audiences will remember their version of “Jaws” presented in 2018, and “Aliens” (script by Lucas Bates, with minor assistance from the cast) last year.
“They drop hints before their arrival as to the content of the show, but even board members arrive at their openings filled with curiosity and anticipation. All that has been revealed so far is that the title of this summer’s show is “Succession: Pilot.” The alumnae will arrive in a flurry and round up local actors, designers, carpenters, and in no time, it feels like a festival,” Bins Schoellkopf said.
The board welcomes local storyteller Karyn Nightingale back this summer with her new one-woman show, “On the Road with an Oxymoron,” which is a miniature theatrical show that incorporates Barbie dolls.
On that note, the Phantom Theater season opens with an invitation to the community to come to “The Moth in the Barn” on July 1 and have a story in mind.
In July of 2008, this writer had an article on a Phantom production, “The Baron in the Trees,” published in The Times-Argus, and a particular quote from that piece is a good way to summarize this essay. Boston theatrical director David Gammons came up to direct the show with Annie Elias from San Francisco, and I wrote, “Both Gammons and Elias are adamant that theater is about community, and about the privilege, and necessity even, of spending two hours in a theater where stories tell about who we are as humans.”
The Phantom website, www.phantomtheater.org, will be up and running with a list of shows and descriptions by next week. Stay tuned to The Valley Reporter for previews. And support your community by becoming an “artist friend” of the theater, by running an ad in the program, or simply by attending shows. (Instructions will appear on the website.)